Page 9 of The Innocent

“Should we sit?”

Loren shrugged a suit-yourself. They both sat. Loren folded her arms and slid low in her chair. She crossed her feet. It occurred to her that she had gum in her mouth. Mother Katherine’s face pinched up in disapproval. Not to be cowed, Loren picked up the pace so that the discreet chew turned into something more like a bovine mastication.

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“We have a delicate situation here,” Mother Katherine began. “It requires . . .” She looked up as if asking the Big Guy for a little assistance.

“Delicacy?” Loren replied.

“Yes. Delicacy.”

“Okay,” Loren said, dragging out the word. “This is about the nun with the boob job, right?”

Mother Katherine closed her eyes, opened them again. “It is. But I think you’re missing the point.”

“Which is?”

“We had a wonderful teacher pass away.”

“That would be Sister Mary Rose.” Thinking: Our Lady of the Cleavage.

“Yes.”

“Do you think she died of natural causes?” Loren asked.

“I do.”

“So?”

“This is very tough to talk about.”

“I’d like to help.”

“You were a good girl, Loren.”

“No, I was a pain in the ass.”

Mother Katherine smothered a smile. “Well, yes, that too.”

Loren returned the smile.

“There are different kinds of troublemakers,” Mother Katherine said. “You were rebellious, yes, but you always had a good heart. You were never cruel to others. That, for me, has always been the key. You often got in trouble because you were sticking up for someone weaker.”

Loren leaned forward and surprised herself: She took the nun’s hand. Mother Katherine too seemed startled by the gesture. Her blue eyes looked into Loren’s.

“Promise me you will keep what I’m about to tell you to yourself,” Mother Katherine said. “It’s very important. In this climate especially. Even the whiff of scandal—”

“I won’t cover anything up.”

“Nor would I want you to,” she said, now giving her the theologically offended tone. “We need to get to the truth. I seriously considered the idea of just”—she waved her hand—“of just letting this go. Sister Mary Rose would have been buried quietly and that would have been the end of it.”

Loren kept her hand on the nun’s. The older woman’s hand was dark, like it was made of balsam wood. “I’ll do my best.”

“You must understand. Sister Mary Rose was one of our best teachers.”

“She taught social studies?”

“Yes.”

Loren searched the memory banks. “I don’t remember her.”

“She joined us after you graduated.”

“How long had she been at St. Margaret’s?”

“Seven years. And let me tell you something. The woman was a saint. I know the word is overused, but there is no other way to describe her. Sister Mary Rose never asked for glory. She had no ego. She just wanted to do what was right.”

Mother Katherine took back her hand. Loren leaned back and recrossed her legs. “Go on.”

“When we—by we, I mean two sisters and myself—when we found her in the morning, Sister Mary Rose was in her nightclothes. She, like many of us, was a very modest woman.”

Loren nodded, trying to encourage.

“We were upset, of course. She had stopped breathing. We tried mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions. A local policeman had recently visited to teach the children about lifesaving techniques. So we tried it. I was the one who did the chest compressions and. . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“. . . And that was when you realized that Sister Mary Rose had breast implants?”

Mother Katherine nodded.

“Did you mention this to the other sisters?”

“Oh, no. Of course not.”

Loren shrugged. “I don’t really understand the problem,” she said.

“You don’t?”

“Sister Mary Rose probably had a life before she became a nun. Who knows what it was like?”

“That’s just it,” Mother Katherine said. “She didn’t.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Sister Mary Rose came to us from a very conservative parish in Oregon. She was orphaned and joined the convent when she was fifteen years old.”

Loren considered that. “So you had no idea that . . . ?” She made halfhearted back-and-forth gestures in front of her own chest.

“Absolutely no idea.”

“How do you explain it then?”

“I think”—Mother Katherine bit her lip—“I think Sister Mary Rose came to us under false pretenses.”

“What sort of false pretenses?”

“I don’t know.” Mother Katherine looked up at her expectantly.

“And,” Loren said, “that’s where I come in?”

“Well, yes.”

“You want me to find out what her deal was.”

“Yes.”

“Discreetly.”

“That would be my hope, Loren. But we need to find the truth.”

“Even if it’s ugly?”

“Especially if it’s ugly.” Mother Katherine rose. “That’s what you do with the ugly of this world. You pull it into God’s light.”

“Yeah,” Loren said. “Into the light.”

“You’re not a believer anymore, are you, Loren?”

“I never was.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Loren stood, but Mother Katherine still towered over her. Yep, Loren thought, twelve feet tall. “Will you help me?”

“You know I will.”

Chapter 4

SECONDS PASSED. Matt Hunter guessed it was seconds. He stared at the phone and waited. Nothing happened. His mind was in deep freeze. It came out and when it did, he longed for the deep freeze to return.

The phone. He turned it over in his hand, studying it as if he’d never seen it before. The screen, he reminded himself, was small. The images were jerky. The tint and color were off. The glare had also been a problem.

He nodded to himself. Keep going.

Olivia was not a platinum blonde.

Good. More, more . . .

He knew her. He loved her. He was not the best catch. He was an ex-con with few bright prospects. He had a tendency to withdraw emotionally. He did not love or trust easily. Olivia, on the other hand, had it all. She was beautiful. She was smart, had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Virginia. She even had some money her father left her.


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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